Ben Macpherson: A hard Brexit could harm the future of our festivals

Director Fergus Linehan launches the International  Festival's 70th anniversary programme. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Director Fergus Linehan launches the International Festival's 70th anniversary programme. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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This week at Holyrood we will celebrate all the remarkable events that make Edinburgh the global capital of festivals. Stretching across a hugely diverse range of areas, from the arts to science to film, our festivals warmly welcome the world and truly inspire a global audience. This year we are celebrating 70 years of Edinburgh being a global festival city – that is a magnificent collective achievement and one we should all work together to build on.

The positive impact that the festivals have on our city cannot be overstated. They showcase Edinburgh to the world, attracting tourists, fans and performers from across the globe – and they have brought joy to millions over the last seven decades.

Edinburgh Northern and Leith MSP Ben MacPherson. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Edinburgh Northern and Leith MSP Ben MacPherson. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

The Edinburgh International Festival was established in 1947 to create a “flowering of the human spirit” in Scotland’s capital. The same year also saw the start of the Festival Fringe and the Edinburgh International Film Festival – both of which continue to showcase some of the most inspiring and stunning performances in our festivals. The economic benefit to Edinburgh from hosting these festivals is also immense. From filling beds in our hotels to boosting our bars and restaurants, and, of course providing a vital source of income to wonderful venues across the city, the financial benefit we gain from our festivals is huge.

Recent studies have shown the festivals attract audiences of more than 4.5 million people – putting them on a par with the Fifa World Cup as the second most popular global event behind the Olympic Games. The economic impact for Edinburgh in 2015 was estimated at £280 million, and £313m across Scotland. This investment supports jobs and businesses across a variety of sectors in our economy, including tourism and hospitality throughout the country.

The cultural benefits of giving people the chance to attend events in fields such as the arts, literature, film, music, science and more cannot be underestimated. That’s why it is so concerning that we are starting to see the openness and strength of the fesitvals being undermined by the implications of Brexit.

There have been warnings from Richard Demarco and Fergus Linehan, the director of the International Festival, about the consequences of a hard Brexit.

These influential voices have raised concerns about possible barriers for audiences and performers coming to Edinburgh for our festivals, as it remains unclear what travel arrangements the UK government will pursue post-Brexit. They have also put forward concerns about the loss of funding for the Festival itself, and for artists from the EU hoping to showcase themselves to the world in Edinburgh. We have also seen serious concerns raised by artistic groups who collaborate across Europe and the emergence of an increased sense of caution. This is because of uncertainty over the feasibility of future ties between Scotland and Europe.

The UK government can help allay these fears but, one year on since the EU referendum, we are still waiting for them to guarantee that our wonderful international festivals will not lose out as a result of UK government Brexit policy.

Our festivals are a big part of the lifeblood of our city – and they continue to make sure that Edinburgh remains at the forefront of global cultural celebrations and development. We must not forget that our festivals exist and thrive because of the hard work of creative communities, innovative businesses and a shared commitment to the arts, film and science. In the SNP we will always work to support Edinburgh’s festivals and we are absolutely committed to doing all that we can to ensure their continued success. Together let’s keep Scotland open to the world and commit to making sure that the next 70 years are every bit as spectacular as the last.

Ben Macpherson is SNP MSP for Edinburgh Northern and Leith